Kyle Morrison, Student, FIMS. OPENWIDE Volume 16 Issue 2
If you are remotely interested in fashion, you are probably aware of the Balmain x H&M collaboration set to be released next month. This Haute Couture fashion icon and Swedish multinational retail company are about to take the industry by storm, as two unique but complementary fashion worlds are about to collide. Given the hype surrounding the release, I think that it is important that we peak behind the glitter and glam, and take a closer look at some of the darker, more sobering aspects of the fast fashion industry.
Amancio Ortega—the owner of Zara for over thirty years—has been ranked by Forbes as the fourth richest person in the world, with the Bloomberg Billionaires Index reporting combined assets of USD $72 billion. According to Forbes, Stefan Persson— the chairman of H&M— currently has a net worth of $23.4 billion, Just to provide even more context, Kendall Jenner (who appears in the Balmain X H&M campaign) has a reported net worth of $6 million, and although her salary is not disclosed, most “it” models get paid extremely high for large-scale campaigns like this one.
Garment workers in Bangladesh, where a large portion of factories manufacturing clothes for H&M and Zara are based, make 3,000 taka a month (about $50 CAD). This is far below 5,000 taka, what is considered a minimal living wage. This is the bare minimum to provide a family with food, shelter and education.
85% of these workers are women. Many are forced to work 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, in extremely hazardous conditions. Often, windows are barred and doors are locked, preventing workers from taking breaks, but also preventing workers from being able to escape in the case of an emergency. Sexual harassment and discrimination are commonplace, and many female workers are denied maternity leave from employers.
The crux of the issue came to a head in 2013, where a factory collapse in Rana Plaza saw a death toll of approximately 1,129 people.
Not so much.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want the clothes I put on my body to be connected with such suffering and hardship. Fashion is supposed to communicate who we are to others. What sort of image are you portraying by wearing clothing manufactured by companies who fail to provide their employees with a reasonable living wage, and force them to work under such inhumane conditions?
As much as these stores attempt to represent individuality and affordable luxury, their image couldn’t be any further from the truth. The designer collaboration is nothing more than a marketing ploy to create flash-in-the-pan excitement and hype. Yes, their styles are on point and their prices are affordable, but is it really worth it to support this kind of exploitation?
I know, you’re probably wondering “what is the fashion-loving student on a budget to do?” Well, luckily for you, upcycling, shopping ethical designers, and shopping vintage are three great ways to ensure that you don’t look like an #HMABOMINATION this season.
When you upcycle your clothing, shop at ethical designers, or shop at vintage clothing stores, you are able to subvert the system of planned obsolescence upon which the fast fashion system depends. You are also supporting entrepreneurial opportunities for women, many of whom take great pride in their work.
Nonetheless, it is equally important to use your informed voice to hold these companies accountable. I would be more than willing to pay the extra retail cost if it meant that conditions for these workers would improve. Voicing your opinion and ceasing to support the practices of fast fashion will eventually force companies to respond. By demanding that companies maintain transparency in their labour practices, we can ensure a quality of life that is truly more luxurious for everyone involved.